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Secrets of Securing Intellectual Property (IP) in the Cloud

Secrets of Securing Intellectual Property (IP) in the Cloud

Blog Article Published: 08/08/2023

Written by Satish Govindappa.

In this article, we will explore the risks, challenges, and strategies for effectively securing intellectual property (IP) in the cloud, as it’s related to the modern chip design industry. I will also share 7 pillars (the Secret Recipe) for successfully protecting IP in the cloud.

This article is divided into 5 parts:

  1. Problem Statement (Importance of security IP)
  2. Threats (List of threats and resulting risks)
  3. Challenges (What we need to solve the problem)
  4. Solutions (Couple of out-of-box solutions)
  5. Recommendation (What is my recommendation and why? - Secret Recipe)


1. Problem Statement

What is IP and Why Protect It?

Intellectual Property refers to the creations of the human intellect, such as inventions, designs, processes, and artistic works, that have legal protection. It encompasses patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. Protecting IP is essential because it preserves the rights of creators and encourages innovation by providing incentives for investment, research, and development. It fosters a climate of creativity, rewards ingenuity, and safeguards the fruits of our intellectual labor.


Importance of IP in Chip Design

In chip design, IP is the foundation of innovation. It serves as the building blocks for developing advanced processors, memory systems, and specialized circuits. Without IP, chip designers would have to reinvent the wheel for every project, slowing down development and hindering progress. IP accelerates design cycles, enables collaboration, and drives technological advancements.


IP Protection and Exclusivity

Protecting IP is crucial to ensure its exclusivity and prevent unauthorized use. Through legal mechanisms like patents, copyrights, and trademarks, we can safeguard our designs and inventions. IP protection not only acknowledges the hard work and investment put into chip design but also ensures that we have the exclusive rights to our creations.


IP Licensing and Revenue Generation

One of the exciting aspects of IP is its potential for licensing and revenue generation. Chip designers can license their IP to other companies, allowing them to incorporate the design into their products. This opens up opportunities for collaboration, technology transfer, and additional revenue streams. IP licensing becomes a win-win scenario, benefiting both the licensor and the licensee.

Securing IP is of paramount importance in the world of chip design. It protects our innovations, provides exclusivity, and opens up opportunities for strategic partnerships and revenue generation.


2. Threats

Now let's dive into the various threats that pose risks to IP in the cloud. Understanding these threats is crucial for developing effective strategies to protect our valuable IP assets. Let's explore them one by one, with some interesting examples to help illustrate their impact.


Counterfeit IP

Counterfeit IP refers to unauthorized copies or imitations of original IP, often created and distributed with malicious intent. Imagine a scenario where a chip designer creates a groundbreaking design for a high-performance processor. However, without proper protection, counterfeiters may produce cheap replicas of the chip, flooding the market with inferior versions that can harm the original designer's reputation and revenue.

Example: The Case of Counterfeit Smartphone Chips

In 2016, Bloomberg reported on the discovery of counterfeit smartphone chips infiltrating the supply chains of major technology companies. The article highlights how these counterfeit chips, manufactured by unauthorized sources, were being used in various devices, including smartphones, posing significant risks to security and functionality.


Supply Chain Attack on IP

A supply chain attack occurs when an attacker targets a company's supply chain to gain unauthorized access to IP. This can happen at any stage of the supply chain, from component manufacturing to software integration. An attacker may inject malicious code or compromise the integrity of the IP, leading to unauthorized access or manipulation.

Example: The SolarWinds Supply Chain Attack

The SolarWinds supply chain attack in 2020 was a significant cybersecurity incident that affected numerous organizations. Attackers gained access to SolarWinds' software development process and introduced a malicious backdoor into their software updates. This allowed them to compromise the systems of many SolarWinds customers.


Reverse Engineering on IP

Reverse engineering involves dissecting a product or system to understand its design, functionality, or underlying IP. While reverse engineering can have legitimate purposes, it becomes a threat when performed without proper authorization. Unauthorized reverse engineering can lead to IP theft, allowing competitors to replicate and exploit the designs without investing in research and development.

Example: Reverse Engineering of Gaming Consoles

An infamous example of reverse engineering is the case of Sony's PlayStation console. In the late 1990s, hackers successfully reverse-engineered the console's security mechanisms, leading to the creation of modchips and unauthorized copies of games. This widespread piracy caused significant financial losses for game developers. You can read more about it here.


IP Insider Threats

IP insider threats involve employees or trusted individuals within an organization who misuse or leak confidential IP. These individuals may have access to sensitive IP and can intentionally or unintentionally compromise its security, leading to IP theft, unauthorized distribution, or even sabotage.

Example: The Waymo vs. Uber Lawsuit

In the Waymo vs. Uber lawsuit, Waymo (Google's self-driving car subsidiary) accused a former employee of stealing trade secrets related to autonomous vehicle technology. The employee joined Uber, and Waymo claimed that Uber benefited from their stolen IP. The case shed light on the risks associated with IP insider threats and the legal consequences that can follow.


Compliance and Legal Concerns

Compliance and legal concerns arise when organizations fail to meet the necessary regulatory requirements or overlook legal obligations related to IP protection. This can lead to legal repercussions, financial penalties, and reputational damage.

Example: GDPR and Data Protection

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a prime example of a compliance framework with implications for IP protection. Companies that handle personal data must adhere to stringent data protection measures to ensure the privacy and security of individuals' information. Failure to comply with GDPR can result in substantial fines and damage to a company's reputation.


3. Challenges

Protecting IP on the cloud comes with its fair share of challenges. These challenges must be addressed effectively to ensure the security and integrity of our valuable assets. Let's explore some critical topics that can make a big difference in protecting IP in the cloud.


Shared Responsibility Model

The shared responsibility model is an important consideration when it comes to cloud security. While cloud service providers offer security measures at the infrastructure level, the responsibility for securing the applications, data, and access lies with us as the IP owners. Understanding and implementing the appropriate security measures within our own domain is vital.


Data Security and Privacy

The first and foremost challenge is data security. As we migrate our IP assets to the cloud, we must ensure that data is protected from unauthorized access, breaches, and leaks. Robust encryption, access controls, and data loss prevention measures are essential to safeguard our IP from potential threats.


Data Sovereignty and Jurisdiction

Data sovereignty and jurisdiction can pose challenges when it comes to protecting IP on the cloud. Different countries and regions have varying laws and regulations regarding data privacy, cross-border data transfers, and access to data by government agencies. It is essential to understand these aspects and evaluate their impact on the security and control of our IP assets.


Compliance

Compliance with industry standards and regulatory requirements is another significant challenge. Different industries have specific compliance obligations that must be met when handling sensitive IP. It's crucial to ensure that our cloud infrastructure and practices align with these requirements to avoid legal complications and reputational damage.


Performance & Latency

Cloud services rely on internet connectivity, which introduces potential latency issues, especially for real-time applications or data-intensive workloads. Chip design workflows that require rapid data transfer and high compute performance may face performance challenges when operating in the cloud. It is important to access the performance requirements of chip design workload and evaluate the cloud provider's capabilities to ensure they can meet those requirements effectively.

Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive and proactive approach. By understanding the potential risks and implementing robust security measures, we can overcome these challenges and protect our valuable IP assets on the cloud.


4. Solution

Protection by Tri-Secrets

In this section, I'll discuss the solutions we have implemented to protect our IP in an exciting and innovative way. Our approach involves a layered security framework that addresses key areas of concern. Let's dive into the details of each layer and the solutions we have implemented.

Let me share an interesting experience we had while securing our IP on the cloud. In one of our projects, we had a requirement to use Snowflake, a data storage solution, to centralize data intake. However, this posed a challenge due to the nature of Snowflake's architecture.

Snowflake utilizes cloud providers such as AWS or Azure to store data. One key concern was the encryption of data at rest and who would own the encryption keys. By default, Snowflake manages the keys. However, we insisted that the ownership of the keys be with our company. Snowflake offered a solution called Tri-Secrets, which allowed us to use customer-managed keys instead.

Now, implementing Tri-Secrets was not an easy task. It required significant investment and time. We faced the challenge of breaking down this issue and explaining the risks involved to our leadership team. We emphasized the importance of maintaining ownership of our data in a multi-cloud and multi-tenant environment.

Fortunately, our efforts paid off. After presenting a compelling case, the leadership team understood the risks and approved the implementation of Tri-Secrets. This decision enabled us to have full control and ownership of our data, both in the Snowflake and AWS environments.

By achieving ownership of our data in a multi-cloud and multi-tenant environment, we strengthened the security of our IP assets. It was an example of how we tackled challenges, advocated for data ownership, and implemented innovative solutions to protect our valuable IP in the cloud.

This experience highlighted the importance of understanding the unique challenges and risks associated with securing IP in complex cloud environments. By being proactive, persuasive, and willing to explore alternative solutions, we can successfully navigate the intricate landscape of cloud security and protect our IP assets effectively.


Protection by Domain Protect

Moving on to the infrastructure layer, we have implemented proactive monitoring to detect and prevent subdomain takeovers. This involves continuously monitoring our subdomains and detecting any unauthorized changes or potential vulnerabilities. By staying vigilant and taking immediate action, we can prevent attackers from gaining control over our infrastructure and accessing our IP assets.

Let me share a fascinating experience we encountered while securing our IP on the cloud, specifically regarding our domains.

During our threat intelligence and research efforts, we stumbled upon a common cloud-related flaw affecting the three major cloud platforms: AWS, Azure, and GCP. This flaw is known as a domain/subdomain takeover, primarily stemming from a hygiene issue among cloud account owners.

Here's how it unfolds: When you associate domain or subdomain names with a cloud resource like EC2 or VM to host an application, everything seems fine. However, when that application is no longer needed, most individuals only delete the resource (EC2/VM), but forget to remove the associated domain entries. This oversight creates an opportunity for hackers. They can assign their own resources to these abandoned domain names, diverting all traffic to their malicious resources and effectively taking control of the website.

This challenge presented a twofold problem. First, we had to tackle the technological aspect of identifying domain entries associated with decommissioned resources. With the number of resources exceeding 20,000 and growing daily, manual identification was no longer feasible. Second, the hygiene issue posed difficulties as mistakes are bound to happen, even with proper training and awareness.

To address these challenges, we embarked on a remarkable journey. Since there were no available commercial tools, we took it upon ourselves to build an in-house solution. Drawing inspiration from open-source tools like domain-protect, we customized and tailored them to our specific requirements. Through extensive research, innovation, and overcoming various obstacles, we succeeded in developing a robust solution.

Our in-house tool continuously monitors domain entries, promptly detects any decommissioned resources, and alerts the entire team via various communication channels. This ensures that we are constantly vigilant, proactively safeguarding our domains and IP from potential domain/subdomain takeovers.

This experience holds a special place in our hearts as we had to rely on extensive research, creativity, and perseverance to create a quality solution where no commercial tools were available. By building our own tool and maintaining a watchful eye on our domain entries, we ensure the integrity and security of our valuable IP assets in the cloud.


5. Recommendation (Secret Recipe)